Screening for problem drinking

Comparison of CAGE and AUDIT


OBJECTIVE: To compare self-administered versions of three questionnaires for detecting heavy and problem drinking: the CAGE, the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT), and an augmented version of the CAGE.

DESIGN: Cross-sectional surveys.

SETTING: Three Department of Veterans Affairs general medical clinics.

PATIENTS: Random sample of consenting male outpatients who consumed at least 5 drinks over the past year (“drinkers”). Heavy drinkers were oversampled.

MEASUREMENTS: An augmented version of the CAGE was included in a questionnaire mailed to all patients. The AUDIT was subsequently mailed to “drinkers.” Comparison standards, based on the tri-level World Health Organization alcohol consumption interview and the Diagnostic Interview Schedule, included heavy drinking (>14 drinks per week typically or ≥5 drinks per day at least monthly) and active DSM-IIIR alcohol abuse or dependence (positive diagnosis and at least one alcohol-related symptom in the past year). Areas under receiver operating characteristic curves (AUROCs) were used to compare screening questionnaires.

MAIN RESULTS: Of 393 eligible patients, 261 (66%) returned the AUDIT and completed interviews. For detection of active alcohol abuse or dependence, the CAGE augmented with three more questions (AUROC 0.871) performed better than either the CAGE alone or AUDIT (AUROCs 0.820 and 0.777, respectively). For identification of heavy-drinking patients, however, the AUDIT performed best (AUROC 0.870). To identify both heavy drinking and active alcohol abuse or dependence, the augmented CAGE and AUDIT both performed well, but the AUDIT was superior (AUROC 0.861).

CONCLUSIONS: For identification of patients with heavy drinking or active alcohol abuse or dependence, the self-administered AUDIT was superior to the CAGE in this population.

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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Dr. Katharine A. Bradley MD, MPH.

Additional information

This research was supported by Department of Veteran Affairs, Hines Center for Cooperative Studies in Health Services Research, grant 91-007, and Health Services Research and Development, grant SDR 96-002, Ambulatory Care Quality Improvement Project (ACQUIP); a grant from the University of Washington Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute; and the Health Services Research and Development Field Program and Medical Service, Seattle Division, VA Pudget Sound Health Care System.

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Bradley, K.A., Bush, K.R., McDonell, M.B. et al. Screening for problem drinking. J GEN INTERN MED 13, 379–388 (1998).

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Key words

  • alcohol abuse
  • screening
  • CAGE
  • alcohol drinking